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Mediation in Motion
A locally founded nonprofit soothes veterans

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November 2016

Music saves the spirit. That’s one of the most important messages from Guitars for Vets (G4V), a nationwide, volunteer-based organization that uses the humble instrument to help military veterans wounded in heart and soul.

“Is there anybody who has not been soothed by music at some time?” asks Milwaukeean Patrick Nettesheim, G4V co-founder.  “Now imagine that you could create those sounds at will. The whole experience can give a sense of accomplishment, purpose and connection to the community. It is truly mediation in motion.”

Following the horrors of 9/11, Nettesheim wanted to do something significant to help unify and heal the nation. In 2007, through one of his guitar students, Marine Sgt. Dan Van Buskirk, Nettesheim saw a musical path that could assist veterans struggling with physical injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and other emotional issues. Teaming up, the men realized guitar lessons were opportunities for both self-expression and positive interaction.

According to Nettesheim, more soldiers have committed suicide since the Vietnam War than have died in actual battle. He explains that G4V provides hope and a sense of community for healing veterans, pointing out that studies have shown that music lessons reduce depression and improve the quality of life and health of students. “The beauty of G4V is that, for some, learning to play a musical instrument in a group setting provides the relaxation and social connection they desire, while for others, opening up about their own trauma is shared within a safe, supervised group of understanding veteran peers,” he says.

The program is now approaching 2,500 students graduated, with more than 25,000 lessons given at 60 chapters in 30 states. A musical background is not required to enter the program. Participants are referred by their Veterans Affairs caseworker. Free lessons and group sessions are administered at VA medical centers and community-based outpatient clinics. Participating veterans range from serving in World War II and the Korean War to current conflicts. G4V has a female participation rate of about 10 percent — a growing number.

Music-minded Nettesheim began playing the guitar when he was 5 years old, pursuing the craft more purposefully at age 13. Over the years, he has played guitar, bass, piano and trumpet in multiple bands. He’s taught guitar since he was 16, and he enjoys the teamwork and camaraderie formed between a student and instructor. He also composes film scores and songs for his various bands.

While not a veteran himself, he enthuses, “Remember how you were as a child when you received a really awesome gift? The reaction of the vets receiving their guitar for the first time is much the same.”

Students have 12 weeks to attend 10 private, one-hour lessons. After graduation, vets can keep their practice guitar or accept a donated Yamaha guitar and its accessories, valued at about $200. They can also attend group lessons and jam sessions with other graduates for as long as they wish.

In addition to donations, G4V relies on volunteers to help with lessons, chapter management and local events.

G4V grad Carlos Berumen, an Air Force staff sergeant from 1997 to 2007, took up the guitar after hearing about the program at the VA.

“(Playing the guitar) helps you get through issues you may or may not have known were even there,” Berumen says. “Being able to make progress on learning cords and playing a song is extremely rewarding. While you’re learning a new song, that’s when some of the other issues you have been struggling with are forced to the front. Then you work through them as well.”


This story ran in the November 2016 issue of: